METRO Manila residents should cut the Philippine National Police (PNP)’s Highway Patrol Group (HPG) some slack for the horrendous traffic gridlock along EDSA and other major side streets. If anyone ought to be held responsible for the rapidly deteriorating traffic situation in Metropolitan Manila’s busiest highway, it is none other than Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino – a putative Liberal Party senatorial candidate in the 2016 national elections.
Far from his public display of support, especially when facing TV cameras, Tolentino has actually been sabotaging the HPG’s efforts to put order along EDSA.
After PNoy ordered the deployment of the PNP-HPG as the lead traffic law enforcement agency on the 23.8-kilometer stretch of EDSA on September 1, 2015, Tolentino immediately appeared before the media promising that MMDA personnel will be on hand to assist the HPG.
“Our MMDA personnel will always be there to help the HPG. The President’s vision is to ease traffic on EDSA and the MMDA fully supports his directive,” Tolentino announced.
Apparently, Tolentino’s promise is a mere “press release.”
HPG director Chief Supt. Arnold Gunnacao complained that the MMDA had not extended any support to improve the flow of traffic during last Tuesday’s “carmeggedon.” Gunnacao grumbled that he has yet to hold the operational command of 150 MMDA enforcers, which had been pledged to him by Tolentino.
It appears this was also the understanding of PNP Chief Ricardo Marquez. In fact, after the inter-agency meeting on traffic in Malacañ ang presided by PNoy and attended by Cabinet Secretary Jose Almendras, Marquez, Tolentino, and other Cabinet secretaries, the PNP chief announced that around 500 (not just 150) MMDA traffic enforcers would be assisting the HPG. In the same meeting, PNoy also directed the MMDA to provide continuing support to the HPG in order to clear so-called “choke points” along EDSA.
Despite PNoy’s directive, however, Tolentino pulled out almost all of the 500 MMDA traffic enforcers usually deployed in EDSA and transferred them to other roads like Commonwealth Avenue and C-5 highway. Up until Tuesday night’s downpour, Gunnacao said that the MMDA had insisted on deploying its personnel separately without being under the control of the HPG.
In a radio interview, Gunnacao said: “When Chairman Tolentino and I talked last [September 4], he said, ‘Arnold, the operational control of the [MMDA] personnel is yours.’ I was expecting he would supply the manpower and I would be the one to deploy them,” Gunnacao said in the radio interview.
“But [MMDA] said they have their own deployment. I requested for additional personnel to be assigned to the choke points but they have not sent any until now,” Gunnacao added.
To make matters worse, Gunnacao said MMDA traffic enforcers are only on Metro Manila’s streets until 10 p.m., leaving HPG personnel to resolve the monster traffic jams on EDSA every time there’s a heavy downpour.
We experienced this total absence of MMDA traffic enforcers first-hand during last Tuesday’s unforgettable traffic mash-up.
Traveling from the Airport Road in Paranaque to the Ortigas Center in Pasig took us four hours, three hours of which we spent in a traffic gridlock on the Nichols interchange. Without any MMDA personnel in sight, the mess was ultimately untangled by stuck drivers themselves. We saw not one MMDA traffic enforcer along EDSA from Kalayaan Avenue all the way to the Ortigas area.
The MMDA’s Traffic Discipline Office claimed there were 75 MMDA traffic enforcers on duty at EDSA last Tuesday night “but because of the dark ponchos they were wearing, it was hard to spot them.” Bolahin nyo lelong nyo!
Obviously, Tolentino wants to retain control over MMDA’s traffic enforcers and he doesn’t want Gunnacao calling the shots when it comes to his employees. Even now, there are very few MMDA enforcers deployed in EDSA. This has some netizens asking whether the real motive behind Tolentino’s stance has something to do with power or money or both.
The way we see it, this is about politics and Tolentino’s senatorial ambitions. This became clear after Communication Secretary Sonny Coloma’s revelation that it was actually Tolentino’s idea to transfer law enforcement duties on EDSA to the HPG.
For the past few months, Tolentino has been getting a lot of flak for allegedly being more preoccupied with his senatorial campaign instead of addressing EDSA’s worsening traffic situation. His “pa-epal” antics of manning traffic at Katipunan Avenue and SM Megamall with full media coverage has drawn widespread ridicule on social media. There is also an online petition for him to step down from his post.
Clearly, the worsening traffic in EDSA is a hot button issue against the MMDA chief, and for an aspiring senator like Tolentino, that could prove fatal in the 2016 polls. Transferring the traffic management of EDSA to the HPG has taken a lot of heat away from Tolentino. He not only removed a stick that his critics and senatorial opponents could beat him with, he also found a new scapegoat for EDSA’s daily traffic mess.
Genius talaga itong si Tolentino!! So young and yet, so…